By Dr. Gina Cherkowski, Co-Founder & Director of Learning at STEM Learning Lab
What is STEM?
Put simply, STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but it is more than that. STEM refers to the integration of traditionally siloed subjects like math and science. Embracing a STEM mindset and methodology means integrating math and science with real-world, hands-on learning experiences and problem solving activities. Integrating technology into STEM is also critical, as it enables learners to acquire and apply their knowledge in ways that are relevant for the 21st century. As our world continues to change at unprecedented rates, we need to help young people prepare for jobs that don't exist yet, using technology that has not yet been invented.
STEM is not new. Since the launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in the 1950s, STEM fields have been flagged as increasingly important. This trend continues today. In fact, 'STEM' is the most frequently occurring word in our current Information Age.
The Canadian Challenge
Although 92% of Canadian students believe the STEM fields are important and will lead to greater job opportunities, only 25% are currently pursuing a career in STEM. A citizenry that lacks the necessary STEM skills and knowledge leaves large gaps in our schools, universities, and in our current and future workforce . The repercussions from this are huge, as a nation's economy depends on its ability to produce a workforce that is innovative and competitive. Given that over 8 million jobs (in the US alone) will require STEM skills by the year 2018 , and the fact that we are projected to be grossly unable to meet these demands the urgency to produce workers who are literate in STEM has never been greater.
Unfortunately, most education systems have been slow to rise to the challenge of creating innovative STEM thinkers. Education leaders need a disruptive outside innovation that can nudge them into making the necessary shift towards 21st century pedagogies. These pedagogies include Entrepreneurial Education, STEM and STEAM (STEM + Art) Education. This is where the grass roots non-profit organization, STEM Alberta, comes in. It is a forward thinking organization that seeks to drive awareness about the importance of STEM and supports institutions that have similar visions, including Beakerhead, MindFuel, Innovate Calgary, Telus Spark Science Centre and Cybera.
STEM Learning Lab
In addition to STEM Alberta, I co-founded a company called STEM Learning Lab with Ryan Clements. We recently acquired Junior Engineers and have added the talents of Dean White, P.Eng. and Natasha Roberts B.A., M.Ed. to our team. Our mission at the STEM Learning Lab is to provide high quality, hands-on learning experiences for kids in the fields of science, technology, computer science, engineering, math and even entrepreneurialism. At our Lab, we offer camps, educational workshops and training sessions, and we even do special events like 'Robot Wars Birthday Parties'. Our camps and workshops run in the summer and throughout the year and include a full range of engineering camps. We also offer Aerospace Camps, App Development Camps, Robotics Camps, Science Camps, Math Camps and even Maker Camps. For the artist who is also a tinkerer, we have developed STEAM (STEM + Art) Camps where campers have the opportunity to do things like make their own cameras and use them to capture and then study their world. We know that adding art to the equation reduces the barrier of entry for many youths who do not necessarily see themselves in the STEM fields.
In addition to our full slate of kids programming, we offer adult classes in technology, development, coding, robotics and even engineering. We also host StartUp events and recently sponsored and facilitated the first ever StartUp for Youth Workshop with our partners Innovate Calgary and Mindfuel.
Through the Learning Lab, kids and adults are given access to the latest technologies and taught to build apps, program robots, and design, engineer and prototype their own innovative ideas. STEM Learning Lab is an ideal place for school field trips, for special events like birthday parties and for clubs. We currently have a Junior Engineers Club building a Tron bike for Beakerhead!
One of the biggest goals for STEM Alberta and the STEM Learning Lab is to ensure all kids can access math, science, and technology through high quality learning experiences. We understand that girls are underrepresented in the STEM fields and, as such, we strongly encourage girls to engage in STEM activities, especially at an early age. To help balance the equation, STEM Learning Lab offers 'Girls Only' camps in addition to our coed camps. Additionally, STEM Alberta is sponsoring the 'Inspiring Girls in STEM' Conference at The International STEMfest that is being hosted in Canada this fall.
The International STEMfest features 14 different International STEM-themed conferences for education and industry, and over 30 different STEM events like the Manning Awards for Innovation, Robotics Jam, and Science on Stage. At the conference, global leaders in industry, education and government will come together to discuss the conference theme 'Skilling a Nation'. STEM Alberta is proud to be an official sponsor of this monumental event and is excited to be the official organizer of the 'Inspiring Girls in STEM' conference on September 30th.
The fact of the matter is STEM is the new necessary literacy for the 21st Century. Technology is becoming enmeshed in all aspects of our lives. 80% of jobs will soon require a high level of knowledge in technology in addition to math and science. Canada cannot afford to leave any kids behind. We need innovators to stay competitive and help us solve problems like the water shortage (where Canada currently underperforms). STEM gives all kids the tools and the mindset they need to be the problem solvers, critical thinkers and innovators of tomorrow.